Six months after San Jose launched an initiative to make the construction of granny units more appealing for residents, prefabricated homes are now being installed in backyards across the city.
Downtown San Jose residents Jeff and Flora Thompson last month became the proud owners of the first granny unit built under the city’s pre-approved accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, program. The entire process, including getting their permits, took less than 12 weeks.
“When you think about that timeline, in conjunction with other options of permanent housing being built across the Bay Area, it’s unfathomable,” John Geary, co-founder of the Bay Area startup and ADU developer Abodu, said at a press conference Thursday celebrating the city’s first pre-approved unit.
Under the program, ADU designers and builders like Abodu submit standardized design plans for pre-approval from the city. Once approved, customers then can work with companies to streamline the process and cut through the red tape.
After nearly a year of going through the daunting process of deciding on the right backyard home for them, the Thompsons learned about the new pre-approved models from the city and then everything fell into place.
“When Abodu came along and they were pre-approved for the quick process, it was kind of the perfect combination — a new streamlined process with the city and a new builder that had really great, wonderfully designed and perfectly long-term livable unit,” Jeff Thompson said during a press conference on Thursday.
The Thompsons are still making finishing touches on the unit and deciding their next steps. Flora’s mother is nearing retirement and the couple would love to have her closer to the family. But in the meantime, they may rent it out as an opportunity to earn some extra income.
Abodu became the first builder to receive pre-approval for its one-bedroom, 495-square-foot backyard home model in September. The city since pre-approved another floorplan for a 640-square-foot model submitted by the builder prefabADU. The city is currently working with five other companies to get their designs approved and ready for residents to consider.
Abodu’s model, which includes a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room, starts at about $200,000, with upgrades available for appliances, roofing and exterior features. The unit is built off-site, transported on a truck and then placed onto a foundation in the backyard by a crane.
The company has installed two units in San Jose, including the Thompsons’, and are planning to install at least three more in the coming weeks.
“We know homeowners aren’t developers. They only want to do this if there’s not a lot of hassle and additional cost and they can easily understand how to get it done, so we have to make it easy for them if this is going to be a successful solution,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said Thursday.
While Geary said his company is working with customers in other cities, San Jose is the only city in the Bay Area that he has seen take the extra steps to institute a formal pre-approval process like this.
“San Jose has proven to be extremely forward-looking in its approach to housing policy, and this unit we’re standing in front of today, it quite a testament to that approach,” Geary said.
The program is just one part of a larger effort by the city to make the permitting and building process for granny units a more attractive and viable option for residents as a way to fight the region’s growing housing crisis.
In addition to the new pre-approved program, the city hired a full-time “ADU ally” to help homeowners navigate the process, launched an online portal where residents can find out whether they’re eligible to build a granny unit on their property, and started “ADU Tuesdays,” allowing homeowners and developers to obtain a building permit within 90 minutes through an express lane at the city’s permit center.
In January, the city approved an amnesty program to allow owners of illegally converted garages, sheds or other types of in-law units to take the mandatory steps to bring them up to code without paying the typical fees and fines for violating the permit process.
So far, the initiatives seem to be paying off. Last year, the city provided permits for the construction of 416 units — more than the past five years combined and up from about 40 in 2016.
“This is an important solution, but we know it’s not the only solution,” Liccardo said. “Still, I think it’s important to appreciate the scale of what we’re accomplishing already.”
Credit: The Mercury News (March 6) https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/03/05/san-joses-first-pre-approved-granny-unit-permitted-and-built-in-just-12-weeks/